Keeping Your Home Safe with Amazon EchoBy - 02/17/2017
Amazon Echo and I have been roomies for over a year. At first, I was obsessed. But now, as is typical with roommate situations, I find her slightly annoying and slightly fun. I purchased Echo for one reason and one reason only, to answer the unavoidable question, “Can a camera-less device with a sassy voice really improve home security?”
Although you might think of Alexa, Amazon Echo’s persona, as little more than a voice added to a Bluetooth speaker, the technology can help improve your home’s security. At first, Alexa was accessible only through Amazon Echo. But now, you can access Alexa through Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, and even third-party devices.
Amazon Echo Dot
Shrink Echo to 1.5″ and you’ll have Echo Dot. Echo Dot is a smaller, less expensive version of Amazon Echo, but just as smart. Like the original, you can use Echo Dot to stream music from Prime Music, Pandora, or Spotify. Through Alexa, you also have access to internet radio and podcasts via iHeartRadio and TuneIn, as well as audiobooks from Audible and the Kindle Store. And of course, Echo Dot can control a growing number of smart home devices. If Echo can do it, Echo Dot can do it too.
Echo Dot (2nd Generation)
My heart broke when just a few months after purchasing an Echo Dot, Amazon launched a cheaper, newer model. The original Dot sold for $89.99, the new Dot sells for $49.99, significantly less. So what’s the catch? Depends on what device you’re comparing it to.
When comparing to the original Amazon Echo, the catch is that Dot loses the omnidirectional speaker that gives Echo an extra special sound. Echo Dot’s speaker is only slightly better than the sound that comes from your cell phone. The good news is that you can hook it up to a Bluetooth speaker or your existing stereo system using an audio cable (sold separately). If you need help finding a compatible speaker, Amazon keeps a list of Bluetooth speakers that work with Dot here. The list includes Amazon Tap, more on that later.
When comparing to the original Dot, there are some minor differences besides the obvious price difference.
- The new Dot no longer includes an audio cable. It is now sold separately for $4.
- Color – Black or White
- Replaced volume control with + – buttons.
- “Better processor”. Amazon doesn’t specify how it’s better, but that’s what they claim in the description.
- Size: Gen 1’s height is 1.5 mm. Gen 2’s is only 1.3.
- Weight: Gen 1 is 8.7oz. Gen 2 is only 5.7.
- Power indicator light is gone.
- Warranty: Gen 1 has 1 year warranty. Gen 2 only has 90 days.
- Echo Spatial Perception- Only the Echo closest to you will respond to your request.
Of all the new features offered by Echo Dot, spatial perception is the only feature that makes me envious. The good news is that Amazon plans to launch this feature as a software update to all current Dot devices.
The final difference is that Echo now has friends. You can purchase kits, which include compatible devices. For example, you can purchase a Dot plus Bose Carbon for $213.99, plus Bose Pearl for $213.99, plus a Philips Hue Starter Kit for $99.99, or plus ecobee for $249.00. If you want lots of Dots, Amazon offers a buy 5, get 1 free package.
If you want to stick the power of Alexa in your pocket and carry her wherever you go, Amazon Tap was made for you. While it’s too big to literally fit in your pocket, it is portable. With a $129.99 price tag, it hosts a Bluetooth speaker with audio quality that is comparable to the original Amazon Echo. But unlike Echo and Echo Dot, Amazon Tap is battery-powered and totally wireless. Amazon claims that Tap can stream music for nine hours when fully charged and can last up to three weeks on standby. When you’re ready to charge it, simply set it in the included charging cradle.
Tap was named tap because you initially had to tap the device to wake it up. Post an over the air update, that’s no longer true. You now have the option of tapping to wake the device, which conserves battery, or you can use a wake word, just like Echo and Dot.
Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, or Amazon Tap—Which Should You Get?
As an Echo and Dot owner, I would have initially urged you to choose the original Echo, but I’ve changed my mind. Dot is $50! Hook it up to a speaker, and you have one awesome little home security accessory.
If trying to choose between Tap and Echo, I suggest Tap as it offers battery power. Essentially, the device offers battery backup, which further improves its ability to help protect your home.
Home Security System Integration
Of course, no matter which device you choose, Alexa can’t protect your home on her own. You must connect your Echo, Echo Dot, or Tap to other systems, and their are plenty of options. When connected to other devices, Alexa can add voice control to devices that would otherwise lack this feature. If you feel threatened by someone or something, Alexa can help. A voice command can signal your panic alarm, your security camera, or possibly call for help.
SCOUT, ABODE, SMARTTHINGS, AND OTHER SMART HUBS
Scout was the first home security system to integrate with Echo. Instead of controlling your security system from a phone or tablet, you can issue a voice command to make things happen.
Abode is similar to Scout and it also works with Alexa. Using the Abode skill, you can integrate with any Alexa-enabled device for free. Using the skill, you can swap modes, lock your doors, and more.
Echo also works with SmartThings. The SmartThings hub and app allow you to control various aspects of your connected home. However, from a home security perspective, the duo is still rather limited. For example, Echo won’t connect to my door/window sensors, so I can’t ask her if my door is open or closed. It also can’t connect to my motion sensor. For now, the most useful feature is connected lighting. From a home security perspective, connecting SmartThings and Echo does very little.
SmartThings and abode integrate with Echo for free, where Scout charges for integration. All three systems allow you to add professional monitoring without a contract, furthering your home’s protection. If you prefer another system, Echo can also connect to Wink and Insteon.
IFTTT and iSMARTALARM
To me, one the biggest home security winners is connecting Echo’s free IFTTT channel. What makes me nervous about suggesting IFTTT for home security is that it hasn’t been entirely bug free in my experience. For example, just yesterday, I asked Alexa to “trigger find my phone, ” and nothing happened. I finally found my phone, no thanks to IFTTT or Alexa, and was surprised to see that I hadn’t missed a call at all. One hour later, I received a phone call from IFTTT via the “find my phone” trigger. I’m not sure who’s to blame, but the communication was seriously delayed. Also, on occasion, a channel will disconnect without warning. For example, I went to troubleshoot a connection to my security system and found that the channel was no longer connected – hence the problem. If I had needed the security system or tried to use a voice command, I would have been in trouble. In an emergency situation, delays are frightening and so are technology glitches.
On the bright side, I can see the potential. Through IFTTT I have Alexa connected to my iSmartAlarm system. I can trigger panic mode, arm my system, disarm my system, and more using my voice. However, like with SmartThings, I still can’t ask Alexa if a door monitored by iSmart is open or closed. I can only execute a trigger if a door is left opened while the system is armed, same with motion sensors.
AUGUST SMART LOCK
August is the first smart lock to integrate with Alexa. With it, you can lock or unlock your door and check the status of your 1st or 2nd (HomeKit-enabled) August Smart Lock. Unlocking your door will require a verbal PIN code for security reasons.
The integration between the two devices is made possible by an Alexa Skill accessed through the Alexa app. Integrating through an Alexa skill is a little different from a direct integration because it requires you to remember a command phrase. In August’s case, you must say “tell August” when starting a command.
Works with Vivint
Amazon Echo works with the professionally monitored Vivint security system. I saw a demo of this at CES 2016, and it works beautifully. Currently, you can arm your system and lock your doors, but you can’t disarm your system or unlock your doors. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vivint implement a security PIN, like August uses, soon.
Also at CES 2016, Alarm.com announced their Echo integration. The integration allows the device to work with multiple professionally monitored security systems beyond Vivint. Alarm.com has decided to start with smart lighting voice control. But over time, the partnership could grow into something more useful and fully focused on home security.
I recently tested this feature with my Frontpoint system. I can arm the system in stay mode using the command, “Alexa, ask Alarm.com to arm my security system”. However, I can’t arm it in away mode (increases the risk of false alarms) nor can I disarm it (security risk). Overall, it’s pretty handy, and I’m excited to see how they expand this skill. (Several readers have asked how I managed to use Alexa with Frontpoint. You must use the Alarm.com skill; there isn’t an official Frontpoint skill.)
ADT Pulse and Canopy
At CES 2017, ADT announced that they will soon launch an ADT Pulse skill. Through the skill, you can not only arm your system and control your smart devices, but you can also disarm it with your voice. Like August, they navigate around the potential security risk by requiring a verbal four-digit passcode.
In addition to a Pulse integration, ADT offers a skill for ADT Canopy. Through Alexa, you can setup scenes using connected smart devices. For example, with a “home from work” scene, you can have your lights dim, temperature adjust, and your favorite music play by speaking one voice command.
Slowly but surely, Echo is adding security cameras starting with a direct integration to Blink. Using your voice, you can arm the camera, disarm it, and ask Alexa to name your last motion clip:
— Rose Thibodeaux (@Rose_Thibodeaux) October 5, 2016
If you want to disarm Blink with your voice, you will be asked to create a 4-digit pin, for your safety of course.
In digging through the skills, I’ve also found a skill for Butterfleye, another cordless camera. The skill appears to be in Beta but has some ready functions. By using the skill, you can ask Alexa to recall recent or past events. There is also a skill for Kuna, an outdoor all-in-one security light and camera.
Finally, coming soon, we should see a skill for iSmartAlarm’s newest camera, the iCamera KEEP Pro. I do not know if the camera will work with Alexa alone or if an iSmart security system will be required.
Other Echo Safety Features
Calling For Help
Thanks to a reader, I’ve been introduced to a nifty skill that can call for help without the need to buy additional hardware. My Buddy is a free skill that allows you to trigger a phone call to a trusted person using the phrase, “Alexa, Ask My Buddy to Send Help”. I’ve been testing the skill and have found the integration reliable. My only word of caution if using this to keep watch over a loved one, make sure they memorize and practice the trigger phrase often. In a stressful situation, remembering the above phrase might be tough for some. More details on using Amazon Echo for calls as well as other options beyond Ask My Buddy can be found here.
In addition to home security integration, Echo works with the Ecobee smart thermostat. Using your voice, you can adjust the temperature in your home. You can also do the same with your Nest thermostat. With Nest, you can ask Alexa to adjust your home’s temperature or even integrate the solution into modes. For example, “good morning Alexa” can set your home’s temperature to something cozier, encouraging you to get out of bed.
With Echo, you can control smart switches using your voice. Using a device like Belkin WeMo, you can make sure you’ve turned off your curling iron (or whatever small appliance you are concerned about) by asking Alexa to turn the switch off.
If you’re concerned about your car, you can connect Echo to Automatic. Using the two devices, you can ask Alexa how much gas is left in your car or even if she knows where you’ve parked your vehicle.
If you prefer, you can go all in with Hyundai’s luxury sedan, now equipped with an Alexa skill. G80 and G90 owners can use Alexa to control their car’s locks, lights, horn, temperature, and even turn the car on.
Ford Motors also offers an Alexa skill. The skill is compatible with Ford plug-in vehicles. You can ask Alexa to start your car, lock your doors, confirm your tire pressure, and more.
Finally, you can bring Alexa into your car using ZeroTouch by Logitech. The tiny, magnetic device makes driving safer by enabling hands-free smartphone control and adding Alexa skills.
Compatible Devices by Type
|Smart Lights & Plugs||WeMo, Lutron Caseta, Philips Hue, Switchmate, LIFX, OSRAM LIGHTIFY, C by GE Lamp, Nanoleaf, TP-Link Smart Plugs|
|Smart Home Systems||D-Link Connected Home, WeMo, SmartThings, Insteon, Iris, LG SmartThinQ, Wink, Control4, Dwelo, Logitech Harmony, Almond by Securifi|
|Smart Thermostats||Honeywell Total Connect, Nest Thermostat, Ecobee3, Carrier Cor, Venstar Colortouch, Sensi, Sensibo, Tado, First Alert Onelink OneLink|
|Home Security Systems||Abode, ADT Canopy, ADT Pulse (Coming Soon), Alarm.com, CPI, Frontpoint, Myfox, Scout, Vivint|
|Security Cameras||Blink, Butterfleye, iCamera KEEP Pro, Kuna, Somfy One|
|Smart Smoke/CO Detectors||Halo|
|Cars and Car Accessories||Automatic, Hyundai (Coming Soon), Ford, Logitech ZeroTouch|
|Other||Ooma (Telecom Service), IFTTT & Stringify (Rule-Based Internet Services), GE Appliance (Smart Appliances), Haiku Home Wi-Fi Ceiling Fan|
|Products With Alexa Voice Services||LG SmartThinQ Hub (Smart Home Hub)|
First Alert Onelink Smoke +CO Alarms (Coming Soon)
Nucleus Anywhere (Video Intercom)
Lenovo Smart Assistant (Voice Controlled Speaker)
Tribble (Kitchen Speaker)
Moorebot (Coming Soon) (Robot)
Omate Yumi (Robot)
|*Look for Alexa-enabled versions.|
If you want to get started connecting your home’s security and smart devices to Alexa, you can purchase your own device for under $180. You can also order Echo Dot online or through your existing device by saying, “Alexa, order an Echo Dot”. Third, Amazon Tap is now on Amazon.com for $129.99. Finally, compare Alexa to Google home here.
Besides the concerns I’ve already shared, I’ll share one more. The hardest part of effectively using Echo is remembering what to say. The more you integrate Alexa into your life, the more phrases you have to remember, and the more complicated it becomes. And trust me, she isn’t always forgiving, which can be frustrating. If you can live with a few quirks, Alexa can add to your home’s security. While right now she is still somewhat limited, the team behind Echo adds updates and new features weekly. It won’t be long until voice commands are commonplace in home security.
Last Updated 02/17/2017
Amazon Tap now accepts wake word.
Read Previous Updates
02/14/2017 ZeroTouch adds Alexa Integration
01/04/2017 ADT adds Alexa Integration
3/4/2016 updated with Dot, Tap, and Nest
4/1/2016 Updated with a hands-on review of Echo Dot and video.
5/20/2016 Alarm.com features now live and tested.
8/3/2016 updated August Lock
9/20/2016 Echo Gen 2 Update
10/06/2016 Blink and iSmartAlarm KEEP Pro
12/6/2016 Added Kuna